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J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players for a belated Independence Day gaming session a couple weeks ago.
Manfred, Dan VIII, Dan IX, Scott, and Bill went with Blood Rage, using the fifth player expansion. Bill and Manfred flexed their Loki skills while the other players corralled the special characters and got them into play.
Beneath Odin's Gallows
Scott and Dan VIII vied for the lead going into the final round, but Dan VIII's diversified strategy won out. Dan IX held Odin's Throne but it wasn't enough to bring him up from the back of the pack. Fun game for all, and it's good to see it works well with five.
Plenty of blood but no rage
Dutch and Natus tackled The Great War, where Richard Borg takes the Commands & Colors concept to WWI. In addition to Command cards, TGW features Combat cards. These offer bonus capabilities and are fueled by HQ points, akin to the Lore of BattleLore.
First day of the Somme
They played two games, with Natus leading the British against Dutch's Deutsche. Dutch skunked Nate twice, 6-0 6-0, but the games were closer than the score. Nate was in good position to crack the German line with the Whistles & Bugles card, essentially a 'line' order that allows all connected units to move forward. He paired it up with an excellent Combat card, only to see Dutch pull the plug on the whole enterprise with Lost Messenger. This reduced Nate's orders to a single unit, which felt awfully lonely as it left its mates behind. That sort of thing combined with lethal Krupp-forged dice did in the Tommies, but the game got high marks and will return soon.
Across deadly ground
Manfred, Dan, and Dan tried the latest version of Dan VIII's Lawn Wars, a game about the darker side of competitive grass cutting. Players maneuver their Toros around their yards, avoiding trees and sheds, and contending with the distractions and occasional rocks hurled their way by their neighbors. Manfred triumphed in an exercise of Teutonic efficiency. Dan still has a few tweaks before his baby is in peak Spiel des Jahres form.
Ooh Crikey It's...
Campoverdi, Smitch, Hawkeye, and myself settled into Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection. Campo had the Indians, Smitch the British, and Hawkeye the French, leaving the Patriots to me. This was my first play and I believe Hawkeye was a rookie as well, while Campo and Smitch were on their second try. We went for the medium scenario, covering four campaign seasons.
Thanks, we'll take it from here
As the Patriots, my victory criteria depended on the relative political control of the colonies (support for/opposition to the British government) as well as the differential between Indian Villages and Patriot Forts. I started relatively strong in the north, with a good force accompanying Washington in New York, and scattered forces elsewhere. My early plan was to steadily reinforce Washington while developing a board presence in the south, while beseeching my French counterpart to enter the war.
Campo built up his villages, lending a hand to the British for an occasional combat boost. Smitch gathered strength in New York so Washington skedaddled to Massachusetts before the hammer dropped. My Southern campaign was bumping along without too much drama but the British slowly devoured the coastal cities. By the time the foot-dragging French finally joined the party only Savannah was still in the hands of the rebellion.
Liberty got a boost with a powerful Allied combo - Hawkeye played a Command plus a Special Action, leaving the Morgan's Rifles event open for me. Washington led his force into New York, spanked Howe, and picked off a couple more Redcoats thanks to the free Partisan action. That actually helped Hawkeye more than myself, as the casualty differential is a French victory condition. However, the British stranglehold on the coast stifled exploitation opportunities.
Hawkeye couldn't move against the British without my help, and since political control was a shared victory condition, I wasn't motivated to assist. Instead, I used my Brilliant Stroke card to send Washington over the Adirondacks to engage in a campaign of ethic cleansing, burning four villages to the ground. The deck was dwindling and the fourth Winter card loomed. The Iroquois Killer had no more villages within reach, so he reluctantly joined the French in North Carolina - if I couldn't win, I hoped at least my ally could pull it out. Hawkeye used my troops to good effect, pushing the casualty differential further in his favor. Campo was poised to rebound just as the clock ran out, denying him a chance to vie for the lead.
Winter is coming
We toted up the score, and as expected no one won outright. Hawkeye worked out to a +2 differential, while Campo and I were even, and Smitch was at -2. I enjoyed the gameplay and found the choices challenging. The events seemed to lean more toward one-turn 'super actions' as opposed to the persistent effects I've seen in modern-era COIN games. We suppressed them as much as possible - my crack at Morgan's Rifles was just a fluke of timing combined with an oversight by Smitch.
My strongest reservation is with respect to the Indians. It didn't feel quite right going after them instead of liberating the coastal cities and colonies, but that was where the victory conditions told me to go. I think Campo played a solid game as the Indians but I don't think it was the most exciting - maybe he can chip in with his own thoughts. The game itself is beautiful, and the factions feel balanced. I will give it another shot, perhaps as the Indians to get a feel for them myself.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen players to wrap up June with wargames, cardgames, COIN, and a euro.
Renaud dropped by with his new espionage-themed cardgame, The Very Best Men: CIA v KBG. Dr. Rob, Dave, and Herr Fuchs jumped in to give it a try. The setting is the 50s-60s era Cold War, with appropriately evocative card art. Game play looks like a mix of Atlantic Euchre trick-taking seasoned with a dash of CattleCar Galactica/The Resistance style double-agent shenanigans.
Explaining the concept
Players take turns assuming the role of Section Chief, nominating a mission for the group to complete. The mission lists a set of skills that must be contributed, and players donate cards face down into the center to meet the requirements. Double agents can submit useless cards, or cards that make the mission even more difficult. Play continues until the mission deck is drained; whoever had the most successful missions as Section Chief wins, though if a double agent created enough mischief, he will win instead.
Padding the HR file
They had a lot of fun in a couple games, with Dr. Rob winning one as a turncoat. They had a long debrief, discussing scoring issues, how to handle a double agent 'reveal', etc. Renaud took notes and revamped the rules a bit. The cards look great, a testimony to the kind of production support you can get these days even for playtest materials. I will have a deck and Renaud's revised rules at DonCon, if anyone is interested in giving it a try.
Jim and Smitch settled in to Reluctant Enemies, with Jim taking the Vichy to Smitch's Commonwealth. The channeling terrain dictates three avenues of attack - along the coast, through the Golan, and across the eastern plateau. After a couple turns Smitch feels behind schedule, but the Free French have appeared and now Jim faces the recurring puzzle of how to distribute his resources against the various threats.
Commandos on the coast
This is the second time I've watched RE in action, and it looks like a good intro for the OCS system. There's some airpower, but not so much that it dominates the action, and both sides face logistical issues that guide strategy and create vulnerabilities. I'm a fan of the campaign, which is off the beaten path but has a lot of interesting terrain and funky units on both sides. They should return to the theater in a couple weeks' time.
Stalled in the center
Mitch and I paired up for 7 Wonders: Duel, a nifty two-player implementation of some of the ideas from the original. Duel follows the same construction of tableau-building over three Ages, using resources and coins to purchases cards and build Wonders.
Rather than the pass-the-trash drafting method of the original, players draft off a lattice of cards whose form changes with each Age. Purchasing resources is a little different as well - you always have access to any resource, but the cost depends on how many your opponent holds. It's typically two coins per item above what you can supply off your own tableau, but for every example your opponent holds in his tableau, you must pay an additional coin. So, if I need three Stone and only produce one, but my opponent has one in his tableau, I must pay six coins ((2+1)x2). As with the original, some Yellow cards reduce this cost.
A man of science
In 7 Wonders you can ignore Military without suffering too much, especially if one or both neighbors are like-minded. With Duel, that choice might be fatal. Each play of a Military card advances the Conflict pawn down the Rivalry track toward your opponent's city; if it reaches his city, you win automatically. You also pick up tokens along the way which hit your opponent's pocketbook. Failing outright victory, you get a few VPs if the Rivalry pawn is on the far side of neutral. You can also auto-win via Science, by collecting six of the seven different symbols. Also, for each pair of the same symbol you pick up, you may select a Progress token - these are cool little rule-bending powers that can boost your efficiency.
The last major change is to the Wonders themselves. Each player has four (drafted from twelve), which are each completed with a single action. As with the original, some provide cash, some add abilities, some do both. In a nice touch, only seven may be built - if you've each built three, whoever builds his fourth denies his opponent the chance to build his last Wonder. Hey, the clue is in the name after all.
Mitch has never played 7 Wonders, so while I was focusing on the differences, he was focusing on the game itself. I fell into a Monument-heavy strategy, supplemented by Yellow cards to reduce my resource burden. Mitch grabbed some science early, and collected the first pair. We perused the Progress tokens for the first time, and discovered one allowed you to ignore two resources when building a Wonder. Mitch hadn't even started his Wonders, so he jumped on it. This was a great move - essentially picking up eight free resources in one action. We sparred on the Rivalry track without any decisive progress either way, so it came down to the final tally. My Yellows and Blues dominated those categories, but Mitch had the upper hand in Wonders and Science, edging me 56-53 for the win.
I think this is a great little game, as does Mitch, so no need to experience the original before enjoying Duel. The interaction is very high, thanks to the drafting lattice. The lattice is built up by overlapping cards row by row, and a card is only available if fully exposed. Therefore, depending on your pick, you might be able to fork your opponent into exposing a good card if he wants to continue to develop a particular strategy. The result is a rich decision set, allowing for surprising depth in a fast-playing game. A solid addition to the collection.
Natus, Hawkeye, Bill, and Campoverdi headed to Southeast Asia with Fire in the Lake. Natus was the NVA to Campo's Victor Charlie, while Bill ran the US and Hawkeye the RVN. Nate, playing red for the second COIN game in a row, saw his North Vietnamese fare no better than his Romans. Good event play helped the socialist cause, but he struggled for board position, as Bill's relentless air campaign kept his head down and stifled the Trail. Hawkeye in turn was frustrated by the RVN's inability to improve its position in the face of looming Coup cards - no opportunity for Patronage so no chance to boost his own scoring. This really hurt when the second Coup came out soon after the first - Campo was well placed to take advantage, tucking a win into his black footie pajamas before slipping into the night.
The rare 3v1 COIN title
Mitch and I joined Dave, Herr Fuchs, and Renaud for Concordia. I'd played it once before but it was new to everyone else. We went with the base map (Mediterranean and surrounding provinces).
I opened by chasing brick cities, and was fortunate to luck into the Mason card to support this strategy. I later picked up the Vintner, and accordingly pursued wine towns as well. Herr Fuchs was Mr. Cloth, locking up cloth cities all over the board and rolling in cash. Dave had a balanced cycle going, and was building out his set at a good clip, along with Mitch. Renaud yielded his seat to Smitch, which disrupted their game for a bit, but they had a good hold on the eastern Med.
I found my steady supply of wine made it easy to pick up Legate cards so I made a point of collecting those and spreading out across as many provinces as possible. Cheap and plentiful brick didn't hurt this strategy either. I was a little worried about Mitch and Dave, who had good board presence. Dave's colonists were particularly annoying as they always seemed to be hogging the connections I needed to efficiently expand. The end game loomed, and I grabbed one more Legate before Smitch (I think) closed out the game.
Starting to double up
Adding up the points, I was lingering at the back of the pack until we scored Saturnus - my six Legates and nine provinces raked in a tidy 54 points, vaulting me past Mitch for a 144-125 win. Smitch was right behind at 122, and Herr Fuchs at 118, and Dave a bit further back. Having a game under my belt was a huge advantage, as the god/board position dynamic finally clicked and I felt my expansion had some coherence. There is a lot going on here and the strategies are obscured by the moving parts. We need to return to it soon so folks don't have to relearn the basics while trying to formulate a game. Also, I think the interaction will pick up considerably once players have some experience and can anticipate the needs and ambitions of others.
J. R. Tracy
We had six gamers for our Flag Day edition of game night.
Smitch, Jim, Herr Fuchs, and Bill pulled out Blood Rage. Most of the big critters reached the map, and Loki was up to his usual tricks. However, Smitch cobbled together a killer combo of multiple quests and Odin's Throne in the final age, coming from behind for a tidy win.
Laying some doomsmack
The same group turned to Smash Up, adding in the Cthulhu expansion. Herr Fuchs had the Dunwich Robots, Smitch ran the Ghost Dinos, Jim had the Aliens of Innsmouth, and Bill led the Secret Agent Leprechauns. I'm not a fan of the Cthulhu set because in my experience the Madness cards clog things up and slow down play, but they had a really good game, with Smitch ultimately persevering. I will have to reconsider my opinion, as they felt the Lovecraft tweak was a large part of the fun.
Like peanut butter and jelly
Scott and I paired up for Tanks: Panther vs Sherman, a recently-published tactical armor game in keeping with Scott's ongoing survey of entry-level systems. This is a miniatures rules set, with the eponymous Panther included with a pair of Shermans, though you have to assemble the kits yourself.
The rules are very simple. Each vehicle type is rated for Initiative, and move in initiative order from lowest (worst) initiative to highest, and shoot in reverse order. You may move zero, one, or two bounds - how far you move affects your shooting ability and the likelihood you'll get hit. AFVs are also rated for Attack (number of d6 thrown when you shoot), Defense (saving throws), and Damage Capacity (hit points).
When shooting, you hit on fours, fives, and sixes. Sixes are critical hits, which are resolved by random draws from a crit deck. Similarly, fours, fives, and sixes rolled on defense are 'saves', but for every six you get to choose which attacking die to nullify, while the attacker chooses for your fours and fives. So, if I roll 2, 2, 4, 5, 6, 6 and you roll 3, 4, 6, you can kick out one crit and I'll use your four to banish one of my regular hits. You gain an extra die on defense for every bound you move, and one for every bound the attacker moved. Stationary shooters may re-roll all their dice. Critical hits do various things like knock off a tread (no movement), ping your optics (next shot is -2 dice), etc, and some (like a damaged tread) may be repaired with a 50-50 chance in the Command phase.
The Oberscharführer lines up his shot
In addition to the basic stats, each vehicle has some sort of special ability - Shermans get Gung Ho, which means they're treated as if they've moved one bound less which calculating their target's defense dice. Panthers get Blitzkrieg, granting them another bound if they don't roll for repair in the Command phase. You may also buy upgrades and crew cards, which grant still more nifty features, like a little extra armor or improved short-range gunnery. Vehicles, upgrades, and crews all have point values, so you can generate your own point-based scenarios.
We opted for the intro Barkmann's Corner scenario. Scott got the Panther along with the Barkmann crew card, which allowed him a re-roll on attack if he failed to score any criticals or uncancelled hits. I fielded two 75mm Shermans without any bonuses. The Panther far outclasses a Sherman on a one to one basis, but I had clever ideas about maneuvering through terrain and catching his side armor (-1 defense die). However, Scott used his initiative advantage to counter my efforts, and worse, I was usually getting just a single gun to bear in any shooting phase. It was still a close match, with Scott a couple hits from destruction when he finished off my second Sherman.
Catching a flank
Tanks is a fun, simple game, though a touch too simple at this intro level. I think you need more vehicles to make things interesting, but the basic kit at least gives you a taste of the system so you can tell if you wish to invest further. This is much more game than simulation, with a heroic/comic book eye of the action. The production values are pretty good - Scott didn't care much for the card quality but I thought they were fine. The plastic sprues are from the Flames of War line, but I don't think there is a strong connection beyond a link on the FoW website. This means you have to assemble the bits before you play a game, an obstacle to some, I'm sure. However, you can easily play with models you already have on hand, or even paper templates. Worth a look if you are in the market for something light and armor-oriented, with special attraction for modelers or folks looking to get a youngster interested in the hobby.
Next up, Scott and I pulled out Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942, Revolution's recent English-language release of Yasushi Nakaguro's design. Scott had a hand in editing the rules so he has a special connection to the game. As the title suggests, this depicts the early stages of the Solomon Islands campaign. Victory turns on possession of Henderson Field, and the game opens with the airfield in American hands.
The map is just a few areas - The Slot and Iron Bottom Sound, where most of the surface action takes place, plus the Eastern Solomon Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, where the carrier groups hang out. There are also bases (Truk for the IJN, Espirito Santo for the USN) which are essentially holding boxes for the respective fleets. Guadalcanal is in the Iron Bottom Sound area, and the status of Henderson Field is monitored on its own track.
Each side has a number of naval assets, including surface combatants and carriers. Whoever *doesn't* hold Henderson also gets a pair of transports, which they use to land troops and nudge the ground campaign toward their side of the ledger. At the start of each turn, players secretly assign their ships to up to seven task forces (TFs) in their respective bases; ships remain concealed until combat. They then alternate conducting seven actions apiece.
Actions include Sortie (committing a TF from base to the playing area), Move (moving a TF from one map area to another), Landing (dropping troops on the 'Canal), Naval Bombardment (lighting up Henderson Field), Air Strike (versus an opposing TF or Henderson Field), and Tokyo Express (a special IJN action that allows them to sneak troops onto the island using individual destroyers). There is no specific 'Surface Attack' action but this occurs whenever you move into an area occupied by an enemy TF. Similarly, Naval Bombardment and Landing actions move your TF into Iron Bottom Sound, and if an enemy TF is present, combat ensues.
Yamato rolls in
For combat, each ship rolls a d6, and inflicts a number of hits equal to the roll, up to its combat strength. Rolls over the combat strength are ignored. So, for North Carolina, with combat strength of three, a '3' inflicts three hits while a '4' misses altogether. Carrier strikes are similar with allowances for CAP and relative air strength and AAA. Hits are assigned, and ships may be either damaged (sitting out a turn or two) or sunk altogether. The game is only four turns long, so damage is effectively a mission kill in the second half of the game. Combat is two rounds, and for Naval Bombardment and Landing missions to succeed, the enemy must be cleared out on the first round. Once combat is resolved, participating TFs go home.
Game play is a giant sequencing puzzle for both sides. To gain control of Henderson Field, you have to get your transports through (each bumps the marker one box toward your end of the track). Before you can land troops, you must disrupt the airfield, achieved via Bombardment or Air Strikes; if the airfield is undisrupted at the end of the turn, it slides a box down the track in favor of the controlling side. Bombardment requires you clear out Iron Bottom Sound of enemy ships, while any carriers contemplating an Air Strike will have to weather the likely intervention of opposing naval air as it moves into position. You only have seven actions to work with, so it's unlikely you'll ever build out seven TFs (all ships return to base at the end of the turn). You must consider your force mix and order of commitment - TFs enter play in a predetermined sequence. The planning phase is the heart of the game and allows for a lot of deception as well as ample opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot.
Scott had the Japanese to my Americans in our game. We had a big air battle on the first turn which crippled both our carrier forces, but I had reinforcements arriving on turn two. I split my remaining carriers, absorbing the full power of the entire Japanese carrier force with lonely Hornet, freeing my other CVs in a separate TF to counter Japanese landing efforts. On turn three Scott turned the tables by running a cruiser as a decoy Tokyo Express, forcing me to waste an entire task force on a wild goose chase. That allowed him to land a transport and bump control a pip closer to the Japanese. On the final turn, the legitimate Tokyo Express evened control, but an undisrupted airfield still belonged to me. Sadly, I guessed wrong on my final activation, sending a useless air strike against a surface task force. Scott's unscathed carrier group was therefore able to launch a strike of its own against Henderson, disrupting the airstrip for a game-ending draw.
This is a tight little game, with unique but very straightforward mechanics. I think it captures the essence of the operational environment, with emphases on the fog of war and planning aspects at the expense of detailed combat routines. We set up and played in about 70 minutes, and I think our next game should be under an hour. It looks like there are several viable approaches to explore for both sides, so I think you can get a half dozen games in before the premise wears thin. Recommended.
Last up, Scott pulled out Arcade, a futuristic armor combat game with a presentation reminiscent of 80s-90s arcade games, complete with wire frame graphics. The board uses a simple grid, with blocks of terrain and neon-bright playing pieces. Players alternate moving their tanks, which can shoot at any point of their move. To shoot, you count the range in squares, down the file and across the rows, and divide by two - this is how many dice you roll. If you roll a one, you miss; otherwise you score a number of hits equal to your lowest roll. If you miss, your shot scatters (using the roll to determine where it lands), which may damage a different target or even destroy terrain. Some outcomes stun the target, forcing it to lose a turn. Tanks can take up to six hits apiece.
Need another quarter
In our first game, my dice were on fire, and I just hosed Scott, rolling four or five hits at a time. There is a wicked power curve such that once down a tank or two, the bad news just cascades over you. We reset, and added Interceptors, which are sorta like hovercraft - fast moving, but with fewer hit points. My dice continued to glow and I won this one as well, albeit in a closer match.
We thought the game was a hoot, but we'd tweak a couple things. The scatter damage caused as much destruction as direct hits, with destroyed terrain wreaking havoc on adjacent units. Stuns are nasty as well, particularly if the unit was about to activate. Still, it offers a lot of game play in a very simple set of rules, and has a groovy retro-futuristic look. The bits are fiddly but not too much of a hassle, and the footprint is manageable. Worth a look as a late night filler or a fast-playing skirmish game.
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve gamers to open June, all settling into four-handed titles.
Jim, Smitch, Natus, and Mitch wrapped up Falling Sky from last week. Smitch and the Belgae had established a good board position, with Natus pulling his Romans back to regroup and try to regain some momentum. Unfortunately, the Belgae and their Germans brothers were too well established and the remaining three players had a difficult time concentrating to reel them in; nice win for Smitch in our first crack at the title.
Vercingetorix pleads for action
Overall impressions were positive; the one mildly negative complaint was the three Gallic factions felt more similar than any threesome in other COIN titles. Also, the natural areas of influence of the factions are more geographically distinct than in other games, so when one player does develop a lead you often don't have a ready means to retaliate. Perhaps that role falls to the Roman, but in this case Nate got clipped early and didn't have the firepower to slow Smitch's roll. Great looking game, and sure to return to the table soon.
Bursting with Belgae
Mark, Tenno, Dutch, and the inimitable Dr. Glaze teamed up for Star Wars: Rebellion. Matt and Mark took the Empire to Tenno and Dutch as the Rebs. They went with the free setup, and the planet draw found the Empire's forces clustered around Coruscant. Given that, the Rebels selected Kessel as their base, to put as much galactic real estate as possible between them and the Imperial fleets.
Tenno mocks the puny Imperial fleet
Mark and Matt opted for a probe-heavy strategy, eschewing builds in favor of reducing the set of possible base locations. As a result, at one point the Rebels actually had more forces on board than the Empire! However, the Rebellion struggled to complete missions outside of a very effective sabotage campaign. Meanwhile, Imperial probes were scattershot, frustrating their planning until young Skywalker fell into their hands. The Sith team Lojack'd Luke with a Homing Beacon, and upon release he revealed the base's home region. Between this info and Probe statistics, Kessel was pegged. Unfortunately, given Imperial fleet dispositions and time remaining, there was no way the Empire could reach the base before time ran out. A solid Rebel win in a game full of craft and guile.
A cocky upstart meets his match
Bill, Hawkeye, Dan VIII, and I tried Divided Republic, a game on the US election of 1860. The players represent the four major candidates, with Bill taking John Breckinridge of the Southern Democrats, Hawkeye Stephen Douglas of the Northern Democrats, Dan Honest Abe, and me John Bell of the Constitutional Unionists. The goal is to achieve an electoral college majority when the election is held after six turns. Barring that unlikely event, the outcome is thrown to the House of Representatives, which elects one of the top three Electoral College finishers using a one state-one vote format.
The structure is essentially area majority but with a lot of thematic flavor. The board is a map of the US carved up into states, which in turn are grouped into regions. Kansas and Nevada await entry into the Union, which can occur by cardplay. Each turn players spin through their 6-8 card hands. Cards have a value and an event - the value allows you to place that many cubes as influence in states of your choice, and the events can be anything from boosting your own position, forcing an impromptu poll in a region, or screwing an opponent. The polls serve to solidify control of states (you can 'lock down' state if you have enough influence) and determine player order for the following turn. This is important as the first player gets an extra card and it always helps to get a jump on the opposition.
There is a strong asymmetry across the player-candidates. Each has a one-use special ability that fits in with the campaign, and tend to have differing regional strengths and weaknesses. Lincoln has a lot of trouble campaigning in the South, Breckinridge's personal dojo. Douglas is generally strong in the Midwest, though Abe had the edge in Illinois, and so on. Many of the cards have a party orientation or regional bent as well. Platform Speech cards allow you to play a d6 worth of influence cubes in a particular region, with a bonus applied depending on the region you choose. The stronger the historical link between the speech topic and the region, the greater the bonus. The game doesn't force the history but its influence is felt throughout.
The center cannot hold
In our game, I took note of the likely House of Reps outcome and focused on picking up a lot of low-population states plus a couple biggies to make sure I qualified for the run-off. Bill and I battled mightily over the South, while Dan/Abe risked an early war (and a four-player loss) by bringing in both Kansas and Nevada as free states. Hawkeye did well in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. My cheap state strategy was looking very good until Dan played a card to shut me out of all but the South on the last turn - all my precious Midwestern holdings were now vulnerable and quickly picked off.
I made up what I could at Bill's expense but was well short of my high water mark. Hawkeye ran a scandal-plagued campaign (he seemed to have a lady in every town, at least according to Dan's newspaper cronies), but still amassed a tidy collection of states himself. As expected, no one secured a majority in the Electoral College, but when we tallied up the states we controlled (throwing out ties) we ended up tied 8-8-8-8! Sadly I was ineligible for the House of Reps vote because I was last in Electoral votes. Dan and I had split New York thanks to my play of Fusion Ticket; he had the most influence there so we felt this was an adequate tiebreaker to give him the win and the White House. Let the healing begin.
In the fashion of the day
We had a *lot* of fun with this one, in large part because we all had an interest in the era and the game really lets it shine through. Divided Republic is more than a gussied-up Euro - there is some real content here beyond a skin-deep theme. I reckon it really needs four players to work well, but if you can put together a crew with a love of the topic, give it a shot.
Last up, Dan VIII and I played a quick session of Bottom of the 9th, a baseball game from 2015. As the title suggests, it's just a half-inning of baseball, built around the tactics of pitch selection. Each player has two tokens, one Inside/Away, and the other High/Low. The pitcher makes his selection, and the batter makes his guess. The batter's success at getting on base and/or moving the runners along depends on whether he matches zero, one, or both of the pitcher's choices. Pitchers and batters have individual quirks and abilities that shape the outcome of an at-bat, so there's a lot of variation from batter to batter as well as room for strategy and deception. I managed to hold Dan scoreless in the inning for a quick win, but we barely scratched its potential as a game. Intriguing little package, worth a follow-up.
Closing them out
J. R. Tracy
We closed May with a dozen gamers for a new title, a tidied-up recent-ish title, and some classics.
Mitch, Natus, Jim, and Smitch tackled Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar, the latest addition to the COIN family. Mitch took the Aedui, Jim the Arveni, Smitch the Belgae, and Natus the Romans. The Roman goal is straightforward - smash the Gauls on the head until most of them have the good sense to do as they're told. The various Gallic objectives differ from one another - the Averni lead the fight behind mighty Vercingetorix, and want to kill Romans; the Belgae aspire to expand their own influence and gather allies to their banner; and the Aedui just want to survive the rebellion a little out in front of everyone else.
The Aedui converge
An early event cranked up the Suebi just across the Rhine. This Germanic tribe acts as a non-player force that can be controlled to a degree by any faction depending on cardplay. The Belgae, however, have closer ties to their Germanic cousins and can control them via a Belgic Special Action. Smitch took advantage of this along with his Rampage ability to lay some serious smack on the Romans. Caesar himself bought the farm and the legions were routed back to Provincia Nostra. The game reached about the halfway point, with Natus building back up and looking for revenge, while his Gallic counterparts pursue their individual goals.
Dutch and Scott tried Scott's homebrew Julian Muldoolian, a strategic level game on the Roman Empire circa the fourth century AD. Scott was inspired by Joe Miranda's Julian: Triumph Before the Storm, but has heavily modified Joe's design, moving to an area map among other changes. Scott ran the Empire against Dutch's barbarian hordes. Sadly for Rome, an ambitious Master of Horse decided he looked good in purple, switching sides halfway through an expedition in Persia. He laid waste to most of Anatolia and generally made life miserable for Scott. Rome didn't fare much better on other fronts, and it looks like the Empire may have ended a century or two early. I've played this myself and really enjoy it. Scott has built a very clean and fast-playing engine while retaining the sweep and chaos of Joe's original ideas. Fun stuff.
Hot tramp, I love you so
After failing to find 1989 amidst the rubble, Dave and Maynard opted for 1960: The Making of the President instead. What's 29 years between friends? I did not see much of this game but I believe Maynard came out on top as JFK.
Kennedy considers the South
Elsewhere we were shocked to learn that Bill, our groggiest grognard, has never played Up Front! Hawkeye immediately took control of the situation and administered two doses of A Meeting of Patrols. The patient responded favorably and upon recovery requested more of the same, stat.
Looking for cover
Last up, Campoverdi and I pulled out Won by the Sword with the long-awaited update in hand. The topic has always appealed to me and I have been looking forward to trying Ben Hull's approach. This is an operational-level treatment, with forces operating in columns, activated by card play. A given force will move and possibly fight in each of the five rounds comprising one-month turn, seeking to capture enemy towns and fortresses, engage enemy forces as needed, and above all find enough food to keep the column intact. Sieging and fighting are all well and good, but foraging is Job One and the game appropriately revolves around the logistics of the era.
The Lion raids the Rhineland
Players are dealt a hand of ten cards at the beginning of each turn. These are used to activate columns, of which he may have up to four. However, only the first two column activations of a round may use cards from your hand - further activations in that round are fueled by draws off the deck. Each card has a campaign point (CP) value, a baggage point (BP) cost for feeding your troops, and a Special Action. The Special Actions are usually little boosts and perks, but there are a few mandatory (mostly negative) events mixed in, so the random draw is not without hazard.
CPs are used to move, forage, lay siege, remove fatigue, and give battle. These costs are the same no matter the column size, but the BP price of the card depends on whether your column is small, medium, or large, measured in steps. Most columns are comprised of infantry and cavalry regiments, supporting artillery, baggage points, and leaders, but you may also form an all-cav column that can take advantage of the occasional cavalry-oriented Special Action. Judging which card to use for a given column requires measuring the trade-offs between CP value, Special Action, and BP cost. Do I use the high CP card for my hammer, even though it carries a very high price in BPs for a large force? I'd love to use the Tactical Advantage afforded by this particular card, but the CP allowance will leave me a space short of my goal. Dare I risk using a random draw for this vulnerable force, which might leave it within reach of the Lion of the North?
Tilly's first tangle
The moving/fighting mechanics are easily grasped. You expend CPs to move from space to space, paying more if moving through enemy cavalry patrols. You may move through enemy columns and towns, though enemy-held or besieged towns will prevent you from crossing a river, a nice touch. Along the way you'll need to spend some CPs asking the locals for a loaf of bread and a chicken or two - foraging yields BPs, but progressively exhausts an area's resources. As the campaign progresses, you find yourself looking further and further afield for food. If you're itching for a fight, you roll up to the enemy column and expend a CP to offer battle - he may refuse (losing VPs in the process) and skitter away. In that case, you may continue to move but don't get another crack at that particular column this activation.
Should a battle take place, you move to the battle board. Forces are divided into two cavalry wings and an infantry/artillery center, with some rejiggering allowed before the shooting starts. The wings are resolved first, with the winning side of each wing reinforcing the center with that wing's survivors. The center is then resolved, and whoever takes the best-of-three across the wings and center wins the battle. Resolution is a simple d10 roll for each side, added to their respective combat strength - this yields a loss number for the opponent. Whoever inflicts the most casualties in a wing or the center, wins that portion of the battle. After the overall victor is determined, the loser slinks off, leaving his artillery and baggage behind. The winner suffers a bit of fatigue, which needs to be paid down before moving again.
Scouring the countryside
Sieges are more drawn-out affairs. Again a CP is expended to initiate a siege, assuming the besieging column has enough troops to invest the fortification. Fortified locations progress from town, to strong town, fortress, and strong fortress. There's a chance the garrison will surrender as soon as you declare a siege (less likely the stronger the position), but if that fails, it's time to start digging. Locations are rated for siegeworks required to assault; you build your lines by expending CPs, and if you have enough troops on hand, you dig twice as fast. Artillery bombardment helps reduce the amount of siegeworks required. Once the siegeworks are complete, there's one more shot at surrender. If the stubborn bastards refuse to yield, walls come down, ladders go up, blood is spilled, and the town changes hands. There's usually some baggage to collect for your trouble, and of course a few VPs to tally as well.
Victory is determined by victory points. You score VPs for winning battles, from five for a minor battle up to fifteen for a major victory in a major battle (winning all three sectors in a big fight). You also score for taking towns and fortresses, from two VPs for knocking over a neutral town all the way up to a whopping twenty for an enemy strong fortress. Finally, you collect points for foraging in enemy territory - up to 1.5 VPs per space if you totally exhaust it. You can lose VPs if you refuse battle - an often sensible option since the price is only three VPs for shunning a fight versus a heavy score for the enemy if he whips you.
We picked the Crossing the Lech battle scenario, which is the first three turns (months) of the 1632 campaign. Since we're both Catholic, Campoverdi and I each performed an exorcism ritual on Natus for the honor of leading the Imperial-Bavarians. Campo managed to provoke some guttural muttering but I got Nate's eyes to roll back in his head before coaxing a column of smoke from his nose and mouth. Campo started with Gustavus Adolphus in Mainz, in the northwest corner of the map, while Horn led a smaller column of Swedes in Bamberg, in northern Franconia. I had three columns of my own, the largest with Tilly in Nördlingen, a smaller Imperial column under Aldringer in Memmingen, and a small observation column of three veteran infantry regiments in Forchheim. Wallenstein relaxed just off map with the largest column in the game, awaiting an engraved invitation before joining the fighting.
Wallenstein's invitation takes the form of an Imperial-Bavarian defeat in a major battle; he appears d10 rounds after such an event. I reckoned my chances were better with Wally than without, even given the price of a defeat, so I opened the game by sending the Butcher of Magdeburg straight at Horn. I figured it was win-win - either victory in battle, or a defeat soon rewarded by a stonking 43 regiments. It proved to be the latter, as Horn won both wings and smashed my center thanks to holding a Tactical Advantage that offset my own. Tilly dashed off a plea to Wallenstein as he fled the battlefield, and the old mercenary was soon in the saddle - I rolled a '2', for a mid-turn arrival. My remaining columns ravaged the countryside and took some minor towns, while the Lion rolled up Imperial garrisons along the Rhine.
Franconia in flames
Tilly's defeat had other consequences besides summoning Wallenstein - it sapped the spirit of the good burghers of Ulm and Augsburg, who were now much more likely to surrender their fortresses in event of siege. I hoped to make enough hay with Wally to put things out of reach before Gustavus made his way south to take them. Things started off well with a sharp defeat of Horn, and then I caught a very lucky break when Nuremburg surrendered to Aldringer, a one in ten shot. Torstensson and Banér arrived with two more columns to round out the Swedes, but neither were anxious to confront Wallenstein. By this time Franconia was a smoking ruin, as the criss-crossing columns devastated the countryside. We were both losing steps with each activation, our forces slowly melting away.
Torstensson took a shot at Nuremburg but was run off by Wally, while Tilly's remnants and Aldringer's column cleaned up northern Franconia and moved on to take a slice off Würzburg and Hesse-Darmstadt. Gustavus was forked, heading toward Bavaria but now contending with Imperial columns in his rear. Torstensson gambled by accepting battle with Wally, but his subsequent defeat sealed the fate of Franconia. Even with Ulm in hand and Augsburg about to fall, Gustavus was unlikely to make up the difference while Tilly and Aldringer rampaged up north. We called it at that point for an Imperial-Bavarian win.
I think the game succeeds in portraying the era - perhaps too well. Your main concern is keeping your columns fed and intact, taking enemy towns when you can and harassing his populace. If a battle occurs, someone has made a mistake. They are very bloody and leave you ill-equipped to siege large fortifications and in poor shape for another fight. So, gameplay is largely a combination of canny maneuver and mundane logistics. I personally *love* this sort of thing but some might find it moves too slowly for their taste.
We spent a little over an hour a turn, and I can't see speeding that up much - every column *must* be activated every round, so that's at least 20 activations, and as many as 40, every month. Throw in battles and siege resolution, and it adds up. There is a lot of calculation and recalculation as you count steps for foraging and sieges, plus of course the battle process. I was more of a fan than Campo, but even I found it tedious at times.
Ulm falls to Gustavus
Overall I like the game - it hits the operational and campaign beats I was looking for, and we found the systems very intuitive once we mastered the card/round/turn cycle. The battles are involved but they are rare and we welcomed the excitement and change of pace. Sieges make sense, with a fair amount of detail rolled up into an easily-executed mechanic. You spend a lot of time managing your logistics, but I think that's fair given the subject matter. Here Campo and I part ways - he'd rather see a lot more abstraction of that aspect. The biggest knock on the game is the pace; I don't think you can complete a full campaign in an evening, but you could comfortably wrap one up in a Saturday. This should be a good candidate for PBeM.
If Won by the Sword lingers on your shelf due to the rules brouhaha surrounding the initial release, pull it down and give it a spin with the update. Outside of a couple minor issues, the rules were no trouble. Ben built an involved but not overwhelming model, and pitched it at a level that highlights the command headaches that characterized the conflict. It demands some effort, but I found the payoff worth it - give it a try and see if you agree.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers for some ASL and a pair of current multiplayer favorites.
Dutch introduced Triumph & Tragedy to Jay and Natus. Dutch took the West to Nate's Axis and Jay's Soviet Union. This was probably the best arrangement, as we find the Wallies to be extremely unforgiving for new players.
"You're going to need this"
The opening pace was deliberate, with a lot of diplomacy and careful force-building. Any hope for going the distance went out the window when Jay and Nate tangled over Rumania and Bulgaria. Jay then dragged Dutch into the war with an offensive against India. Delhi fell to the Reds, and Jay looked like he had the upper hand. That's when Natus noticed the tip of a dagger sliding into his spine as the British landed in Italy to take Rome. It was a now a race - Dutch lunging for the Ruhr while Jay's Red Spaniards aimed for Paris. A doomed defense by the Volkssturm briefly slowed the blue tide, but the Ruhr soon fell in a win for the West.
Sprint to the finish line
Smitch and Tenno went over to the dark side against Campoverdi and El Rios in Star Wars: Rebellion. The Rebels were very hot to trot in the early turns, aggressively pursuing objectives all over the galaxy. Unfortunately, one such mission cost them the game. When Imperial stormtroopers landed on Rodia, they found an empty Rebel Base with a note pinned to the door: "Raiding Coruscant, back in 20 minutes". It was a fatal gamble, but hey, that's how these rebels rolled.
We had two games of Advanced Squad Leader going on side by side. First up, Stéphane faced Scott in the venerable Marked For Death from the Paddington Bears. Stéphane had a tough bunch of elite Germans, led by a 9-2 and a hero, trying to take and hold a bridge from Scott's handful of French defenders. Scott received mid-game reinforcements that would double his infantry and add a couple Pan-Pans to the mix.
Ze Basque on the attack
Stéphane's hero advantage was short lived, as Scott quickly matched him and then generated a second 149. One particularly stubborn SOB took a bullet in the shoulder early on, but settled in next to the bridge to defy all German attempts to dislodge him. Stéphane eventually took the bridge but his hold is precarious.
The French reinforcements have arrived and the bridge garrison is isolated. One Pan-Pan was immobilized by an ATR, its crew cut down as they bailed out. The other is prepared to lead the counterattack as the game enters the final turn. Sadly, they could not finish, but Scott recorded the positions and they will play it out via VASL.
Horace stands his ground
Hawkeye and I paired up for another scenario featuring the French, Erstwhile Allies from Dispatches from the Bunker. These French were Vichy, however, defending an Algerian town against fresh-faced Americans on the opening day of Operation Torch. I had the defenders, mostly first line units stiffened by a pair of elite squads, some good support weapons, and a Soixante-Quinze. I also had a pair of fanatic half squads hidden in the olive groves forward of my main defense. Hawkeye had a slew of second line 546s, several machine guns, and two M3 Gun Motor Carriages (halftracks mounting 75mm guns). The GIs had roughly two times the French firepower, but needed to dig my defenders out of three multi-hex buildings, all stone by SSR.
I centered my defense on the largest objective, building U3 in my left rear. I placed my artillery piece in V3, with a squad and a light machine gun upstairs in V2. Another couple squads defended X2 and X3, ready to fall back. I thought the Z2 building was a deathtrap, so I just manned it with a couple half squads and some dummies. The 9-1 directed my medium machine gun from X5, while more dummies defended the third objective, building T6. I put my HIP half squads forward on my right, to delay any Americans sweeping up that flank. As fanatics, they could also engage the halftracks without need of a PAATC, and had a decent chance against the open-topped, MG-less vehicles.
The opening was a thing of beauty from the French perspective, as a platoon of dogfaces walked right up to one of my hidden half squads. Unfortunately I blew the roll and my half squad soon departed the playing field. The second half squad had much better luck, holding my right flank all by itself and disrupting Hawkeye's ability to maintain a broad front attack. I had difficulty in the center, however, with the medium machine gun passing through the hands of several Frenchmen before finally landing with some GIs; it did manage to stun one GMC before going down. The left held up nicely, though, as it took Hawkeye several turns to battle through the buildings on the edge of town.
Giving ground grudgingly
As the final turns approached, I fell back on the U3 building and stuffed it full of Vichy. My Sniper sent the stunned halftrack home, while a light machine gun claimed the second. Without the support of his heavy hitters, Hawkeye's 6-morale troops struggled to advance. With no prospect of cracking my final defense, he conceded on the final turn. Looking this up on ROAR, I see it sports a 21-7 pro-Vichy record, and I can believe it. Attacking stone buildings with low morale troops is no picnic, even with a heavy firepower advantage. I like the idea of the scenario, but the GIs need a little more, and the French a little less, to generate a competitive situation.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen gamers last week for some new and old choices.
Bill and Stéphane sought to stamp out the insurgents Mark and Smitch in Star Wars: Rebellion, in what proved to be a fun-filled comedy of errors.
"Stop pointing at the base"
I knew something was up when I stopped by to hear Smitch say, "We're in trouble - we tried to move the base but missed the roll." It sounded odd but I was distracted and failed to put my finger on it - the "resolve" versus "attempt" confusion had claimed yet another victim. The Empire also benefited by claiming full production from subjugated systems. Still, it was a close game, with no complaints from the doomed rebels. We have yet to play it two-handed as there is always enough demand for a four-seat game.
Big game hunting
Dutch and Hawkeye returned to Jerusalem from last week. Dutch's Israelis continued to kick ass but the Arab Legion finally appeared. However, they failed to break through, and Dutch was able to seal the board edge where the remainder were due to enter. Unlike other games that allow reinforcements to enter in the nearest open hex, Jerusalem offers no such recourse. With no hope of recovering the situation, Hawkeye conceded. Interesting game, but unlikely to re-emerge from storage any time soon.
Maynard paired up with his buddy Greg for a Roma marathon. Greg is a Tigris & Euphrates shark but Maynard turned the tables with Roma, as their best of three series evolved into best of five, and finally best of seven. Maynard took the match, and will move on to Arena: Roma II once we dig it out of the pile.
You say Mercaytor, I say Mercahtor
Dan VIII rolled in with T.I.M.E Stories, so Manfred, Drew, and I joined him for a little time-travelling detective work. The game is a mystery box co-op, reminiscent of Mansions of Madness but with a flowchart-type system guiding the narrative instead of an active player opposing the team. Players climb into the Wayback Machine to time-jump into the past and right a wrong or repair an anomaly. Players inhabit 'receptacles', contemporaries of the target event, and follow a trail of clues to solve the mystery. They are under time pressure but get several cracks at the problem, and the team is graded on how long/how many tries it takes to set things right.
I can't go into much detail of our game without spoiling the plot for potential players, but we had a great time struggling through a difficult case involving an asylum in the 1920s. We encountered a couple clever, challenging puzzles, and made some wrong turns along the way. We doggedly pursued one path that proved to be a particularly frustrating red herring, but a sense of humor helped soften the blow. We finally solved the case on our third trip, but our evaluation was harsh - we've been reassigned to the kitchen staff and are lucky to still have jobs at all.
About as good as it looks
Everyone enjoyed the game, which should appeal to puzzle-solvers and fans of immersive co-ops. We finished in about four hours but from the forums it looks like some groups are taking a lot longer. Each case is a one-shot deal - once solved there is no point in replaying it. However, there are a few cases in print and more to come, and I look forward to checking them out.
We wrapped up with a couple games of FUSE, another cooperative, this one a real time dice game with a (very loose) bomb-defusing theme. Players take turns blindly drawing dice from a bag and rolling - you draw a number of dice equal to the number of players. Each player grabs one die and assigns it to one of their 'bombs', which are cards with unique dice combos of different colors and numbers. The bag is passed, more dice are rolled, and so on. Once a combo is filled, that bomb is defused and the player draws a new one. The trick is you are playing against the clock, some of the bombs kill your dice when drawn, and you are at risk if you grab a die you can't use.
Easy does it
We got smoked in our first game, losing by a mile. Our second was a nailbiter, but we closed it out literally at the last second. The time pressure is great, and the co-op nature is undermined by the fact you are all grabbing for a common resource. Taking a little time to efficiently assign the dice helps, but the clock is ticking. Very light, but a great nightcap.
J. R. Tracy
Scott and I got together for a rare Saturday gaming session, banging out a couple VPG titles over the course of the morning and early afternoon.
We opened with Joe Miranda’s Franco-Prussian War 40, #1 in the von Clausewitz series. As you might expect from the title, friction plays a role, but otherwise it’s a pretty conventional igo/ugo army level slugfest, with locking zones of control and mandatory combat, spiced up with hidden units (including dummies) and a bit of cardplay.
The Kartätschenprinz grows impatient
Friction makes itself felt in the form of Friction Points (FPs). FPs are the price of bad outcomes or doing anything out of the ordinary – suffering a Rout result, making an indecisive attack, drawing extra cards, etc. When you generate an FP, you hand it to your opponent and he can expend it to make your life miserable, such as by forcing a reroll of a combat result, reducing the movement allowance of a given unit, forcing a CRT reroll, reducing the combat strength of a unit, making you reroll a die, denying a card draw, or occasionally, if the situation warrants, compelling you to roll again on a crucial combat. Expending an FP doesn’t automatically work, however – you have a 50% chance of success, and the possibility of retaining the FP or kicking it over to your opponent.
Cards generally boost your abilities a touch, though usually at the cost of one or two FPs. Some are mandatory events reflecting some historical incident with negative consequences. Most cards can also be used to generate replacement points to recover eliminated units. They may also be used to fuel Reaction moves – in between your opponent’s movement and combat phases, you have the option of moving Reserve (unengaged) units one hex into an enemy zone of control. You can move one such unit per card discarded. This is a handy way to boost the defense of a particular hex or, given mandatory combat, force him to attack at unfavorable odds.
There are a couple ways to win. The Prussians win if they control eleven or more points of objectives (Paris is worth ten, most other cities are worth one, with a couple three pointers), and the French win if they hold the Prussians to five points or less. You can also win by driving your opponent’s morale to zero, via eliminating enemy units, capturing supply depots, and inflicting routs. Your own morale gets a boost when you kill an enemy unit, and some cards affect morale as well.
In our game, I took the Prussians and struggled to penetrate the frontier. Between the terrain and ineffective attacks, Scott held me at bay well into September. However, I finally managed to kill a couple big units, and cracked the river line. I rolled up Metz, Verdun, and Sedan, and advanced on Paris on either side of the Marne. The Empire didn’t survive the fall of Metz, but the Republic didn’t fare much better. My biggest worry was a concentration of French troops around Dijon on my left flank. I finally dispatched a couple armies to clear up that corner of the map, while Garibaldi’s attempt to liberate Strasbourg ended in tears. The Republic’s last gasp effort to relieve Paris generated a decisive battle south of Amiens; the resulting losses pegged out French morale for a Prussian victory.
Encounter on the Catalaunian Plains
We had fun but found a couple game elements mildly irritating and play balance potentially troubling. The Friction Point concept is interesting in principle but we found that using them for rerolls dominated all other options. I can see possibly using one to slow a unit in the closing turns of a very close game, but beyond that, nothing matches the potential return of a reroll. The rerolls in turn can make combat tedious, particularly if both sides have FPs to spend. You roll, I don’t like your result, I spend an FP, I roll to see if the FP is effective, you then re-roll, you don’t like the result, you spend an FP to roll again, etc. We finally resorted to bidding FPs for a reroll, which was a little more interesting and a heck of a lot faster. The lack of significant supply constraints was curious as well – the only effect of being out of supply is that a unit that dies in such a state can’t be bought back with replacement points. As a result I could maintain a concentrated juggernaut that rolled over all resistance once I was over the frontier, without much need to protect my LoC. Dijon was more a threat to my OCD than to Prussian prospects. This leads into our balance concerns – the frontier battles went about as well as we could expect for the French, but I never broke a sweat. The French have the single best unit in the game (the Army of the Rhine), but on the whole Prussian armies are better and after I killed the big guy Scott couldn’t marshal a decent threat.
There are several elements we enjoyed – the cards are interesting, the hidden units are a nice touch, and fortresses are handled in a simple flavorful way (no ZOCs into or out of a fortress – everyone turns into Bazaine once inside the walls). The Reaction option forces careful planning on attack and defense. I think the FP system needs some tweaking, but the potential is worth exploring. In sum, I'm unlikely to play it again soon - we're still looking for a good game on the topic. However, it might be worth a look if you have a strong interest in the conflict and an appetite for some homebrew fixes.
We followed up with Fleets 2025: East China Sea, a game on a hypothetical Sino-US conflict over the fate of Taiwan. Each side has surface, subsurface, and air units, rated for combat power, movement, and range. Some units are particularly effective against enemy air (air superiority fighters, some guided missile destroyers). Units are in ‘stealth mode’ (distinguished only by type) until detected, so fog of war plays a role.
The imperialists approach
This game is all about asymmetry, starting with the sequence of play. The Chinese player moves all his units first, followed by the US. Both players then conduct an ‘Action Phase’, starting with the US. He can search (playing a card and attempting to detect units in stealth mode) and then must play a card either for its effect or as orders. Card effects include land-based missile strikes, damage control, and so on. Orders are the heart of the game, however. Cards have order values from two to four or so – each order allows the activation of all units of a single type in a single hex (stacking is three air/two surface/one sub). Ordered units move and then attack before the next order is executed. Combat is roll to hit/roll to save, hitting on 4+ and saving on 5+. If more saves are rolled than hits, the attacker may suffer some blowback. After the US completes his Action Phase, the Chinese player replies, and both sides then rebase their air.
Air units are eliminated by a single hit while subs and surface units are eliminated by two hits. Eliminated units are placed on the bottom of the Political Will track – each row of the Chinese Will track has three boxes, while the US track has two per. If the casualties reach a given side’s Political Will level, that side loses. Will can also be affected by card play and game conditions, such as who dominates the sea around Taiwan.
Besides orders and text effects, cards (drawn from a common deck) are also used for detection and for boosting combat power – each has an image of blue and red dice, which may be applied by the US and Chinese players respectively to a given detection attempt or battle. It looks like the Chinese typically get more bonus dice this way, but we didn’t do a thorough survey. The text effects are often unique to one side or the other – the US gets some sweet damage control cards while the Chinese gets to conduct Will-boosting Special Forces raids on Taiwan.
With a very short suggested playing time, we decided to go for the whole enchilada and played the biggest scenario in the game, using the entire counterset. I took the Chinese, and got a couple carriers, several subs, a host of other surface ships, and a healthy land-based air component. Scott got three carriers of his own and a similar collection of supporting forces. He had a larger hand size, while my Will started out slightly higher. If I had more units within two hexes of Taiwan, *and* more cards at the end of a turn, the US Will decayed. I decided to set up close to the renegade state, with my carriers in the lee of the island away from US firepower, and awaited the onslaught.
Scott opened with his fancy-pants stealth cruisers, launching strikes from four and five hexes away – this was a bit unfair as my longest-range unit could only hit out to three hexes. However, I somehow managed to roll more saves with fewer dice than Scott managed hits. As more US ships came into range, I started to suffer some losses, but my mastery of the save roll provoked a lot of muttering in USN CICs. I retaliated with powerful long range land-based missiles, damaging a CGX and its destroyer escort. Scott patched them up with a timely damage control card, but a second strike again crippled the pair. He then pulled them out of range, so I had to nuke them from orbit – it was the only way to be sure.
Chinese losses outpaced those of the US, but due to the Will track asymmetry and the initial values, Scott was in worse shape overall. He carefully managed his card use to make sure he always had as many as me, but a couple times I played events that forced him to discard, good for a couple points of Will damage. Scott felt he had to force the issue and rushed the bulk of his forces toward Taiwan. However, I used my subs to jam up the straits around Japan, channeling his approach and forcing a more piecemeal attack than he intended. Though he inflicted heavy losses, the turn sequence now worked in my favor – my air units were able to hit his surface ships without fear of retaliation, rebasing before he could strike in return. In two turns of furious action just off Taiwan, the US Political Will threshold was broached, for a PRC victory.
This was a very enjoyable, fast paced game. I think the US side is very tricky – better units in every way and a turn sequence that (usually) favors them, but facing a tough task given the sheer number of Chinese steps and their stubborn Political Will. We’re guessing they need a careful coordination of assets, with the US air covering the surface combatants as they engage the Chinese from standoff range. The Chinese advantages include the Will track and the card bonuses, but I think they will suffer mightily if they have to take the fight to the Americans. Fortunately the game plays so quickly you can examine several options in a single session. We learned and played the biggest scenario in 90 minutes – I’d say we’d easily finish in under an hour next time out. There are also three smaller scenarios to explore. Definitely recommended as a light alternative for modern naval combat fans struggling to get the Fleet Series series to the table.
Wed May 25, 2016 12:54 pm
J. R. Tracy
With a mellow crew of nine we went deep into the vault for an old classic alongside a ton of cardgaming.
Hawkeye and Dutch broke out John Hill's Jerusalem (SDC edition) with Hawkeye taking the Arabs to Dutch's Israelis. Dutch hammered a few convoys into Jerusalem itself, successfully reinforcing the city, but the Stern Gang departed the playing field thanks to sloppy bombcraft.
Birth of a nation
With his highway defense compromised, Hawkeye found himself fighting in several isolated pockets, and the Mad Bomber wasn't much help (but at least he didn't blow himself up). Glubb Pasha's Arab Legion is waiting in the wings, but it remains to be seen whether it will arrive in time to save Hawkeye's position.
The Holy City
Mitch and Herr Fuchs opened the evening by teaming up against Baron Blade in Sentinels of the Multiverse. After making short work of the Baron, they tried an ambitious cube draft game of Magic: The Gathering. They both built decks with life preservation in mind, and did too good of a job - after a long stretch of play their life points continued to escalate, so they just called it a friendly draw by evening's end.
Gleaming the cube
Smitch hauled down Millennium Blades and broke it open with GorGor, Jim, Campoverdi, and myself. This is a self-described "CCG Simulator", a card game about card gaming. Players build decks for the fictional CCG "Millennium Blades" and compete in tournaments. Players progress from the Regionals, to the Nationals, and on to the World Championship.
Let's do the Time Walk again
Each tournament is preceded by a card buying and trading segment, which itself consists of three rounds. These are timed segments of seven, seven, and six minutes. Players begin with a nine-card 'starter deck' of a particular theme, and get an additional six cards dealt off a giant deck of commons and boosters before the insanity begins. The cards are distinguished by Element and Type (there are six kinds of each) and have a star rating that is used for a variety of functions including dueling. Most also have an effect that may be automatic, a reaction, or something you can trigger during play. The Card Store is then populated by core system cards and boosters - these are face down but you have some information about what they might be. Core cards are evenly distributed across Element and Type (I think) but the boosters are skewed toward particular flavors and the card back displays that booster's distribution.
Unwanted cards may be sold into the Aftermarket for their star rating - this is necessary to raise cash and since these cards are placed face up, it's a good place to do some selective shopping. You collect your proceeds from the bank, so the sale is automatic. However, you may only have four cards in the Aftermarket at any one time (you mark yours with chits) and the Aftermarket itself doesn't have enough slots for everyone to have four cards for sale at once - these little constraints can make themselves felt at the most annoying times.
The last source of cards are the Promos - these are Bronze, Silver, and Gold, and are obtained by trading in five, seven, or nine cards respectively (but no cash is involved). These are high-powered cards, but are purchased sight unseen (other than their metal-level) so they might not fit your scheme. Cards may also of course be traded, but this is regulated - the total star values of the traded cards must match, with any shortcoming made up for in cash.
You buy and trade with two goals - first of course is deckbuilding for the upcoming tournament. This requires a deck of eight cards, of which six will be played (usually), plus a 'box' and up to two 'accessories' which boost your deck performance in various ways. The second goal is to build a Collection, which is a set that matches across either a single Element or Type, but composed of unique star values. Collections are cashed in for victory points before the tournament, so they don't actually see play. Your market actions are slightly schizophrenic, as you evaluate cards for their play potential versus their collection potential, constantly reassessing your current plan against whatever fresh temptation your latest acquisition presents.
The tournament is a fully realized game in itself. Players take turns playing cards, implementing effects and
tapping flipping cards as necessary, until everyone has played their full potential (some cards allow extra plays). Tournament scores are tallied and victory points awarded based on how you place. These tournament-derived VPs increase substantially from the first through the third event, but Collection VPs do not, a nuance that didn't fully register with me.
My initial deck was Chateau Helbane, with a Dark Element focus that lent itself to a card-flipping VP engine. I scored a ton of points if I could flip my own cards (not a given) and a few more if those of my opponents were flipped as well. I enhanced it as best I could through additional purchases, and built out a seven card Collection. I won the tournament, and with the Collection bump I had a narrow lead overall. For the second event, I left my deck pretty much alone, switching up my accessories instead, and again had a seven card Collection. However, GorGor and Smitch each built screaming VP machines and beat me handily, with Campo and Jim following behind. I tried to mix things up for the final tournament, but without much success - I did include a card that specifically targeted GorGor's main VP generator, however. I had another seven card Collection, but finished a disappointing fourth in a very tight tournament - we were spread 191-180 first through fourth place. That eleven point spread translated into a 24 point VP differential, and GorGor won overall with 115 to 102 for Smitch, while I was middle of the pack with 87.
I found Millennium Blades engrossing if a touch long. There's no real difference between the three event segments, and by the end the deck-building element lost its luster. The tournaments remained a lot of fun though. I thought the interaction was very strong - we rarely traded but the Card Store and the Aftermarket were shark tanks. The tournament themselves were great - as I mentioned, I bought a card that clipped GorGor while my opponents picked up accessories that blunted my mad card-flipping skilz. The presentation is very nice, with attractive cards and intelligently-constructed play aids. It's still a sprawling, messy beast since everyone is grabbing and tossing cards and money simultaneously. I'm not a big CCG guy so the in-jokes were largely lost on me, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. Overall I'm glad I tried it, and would play it again. I'm unlikely to buy it myself as the theme doesn't grab me, but if you're a fan of the subject, check it out.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players for more playtesting, a new title, and some old favorites.
Mark ran another Pericles playtest, joining Drew in the Spartan camp against Campoverdi and Smitch as Athens. This time Athens steadily built a Scotch-fueled lead, working not just the Aegean but also the western Mediterranean coast. An Aristophanes (random event) card introduced the War/Peace issue into the Spartan assembly in the late game, giving Athens a chance to win if peace broke out and they maintained the lead. Campo had the personal lead and control of Athens, so stood to win outright.
Campo adjusts the Honor track
After the Assembly phase peace was indeed at hand, meaning the game would end that turn. Smitch donned protective eyewear, grabbed a sledgehammer, and invoked Extreme Playtest Mode. His mission was to find a way to sabotage Athens' war effort to a degree that Campo (as leader of the city) would suffer more than himself, but not so much that Sparta would actually pass them in combined Honor (VPs). It required precise play and a delicate balancing act, but he lacked precision tools and wasn't in a particularly delicate mood. He overdid it a touch, allowing Mark and Drew to edge into the lead by turn end, for a Spartan victory and an individual win for Drew. It was a good stress test for the game structure, prompting Mark to cook up a few tweaks for the next iteration.
Athens undermines the Isthmus
Scott and I paired up for Race to Berlin, from Leonardo Games. The high production values remind me of 1944: Race to the Rhine, but unlike RttR's frenemy-fest, RtB is explicitly confrontational. Akin to the SPI classic Battle for Germany, one player runs the Western Allies, the other the Soviets, and each controls the Germans opposing his counterpart. The timing isn't specific but play opens with what appear to be early '45 start lines. The game is just three turns long, but each turn consists of many activations so it's not as short as it sounds. Various areas within the Reich are worth VPs, but the real prize is Berlin. If you control the capital at game end, you win, otherwise VPs determine the winner.
The map is sliced up into areas, with rivers and other terrain illustrated by icons. The combat units are notional, with unique names but no factors. The driving elements are the logistics blocks. Each side has eight of these, two of each value from two to five. The value indicates the number of action cubes the block provides, and the strength it contributes to any combat it supports. At the beginning of each turn, players take turns placing single log blocks with their formations, either their own troops or the Germans facing their opponent. The values are concealed from the opponent when placed.
After all the blocks are placed, the action phase begins. Players take turns performing single actions, either moving a unit, making an attack, or removing a logistics block. A movement action (which does not consume an action cube) allows you to move some or all the contents of one area to an adjacent area. You may have up to three combat units but only one log block per area, and log blocks must always be accompanied by a combat unit. These last two constraints can really cramp your style, with traffic management becoming an issue as your forces advance.
To attack, the player designates an area with a logistics block and commits either one or two action cubes. If the defender has an unexhausted log block in the target area, he must commit a cube to defense; if not, and he has an unexhausted block in an adjacent area, he may use that to support the defense (exception: an area with an exhausted log block may not be supported from adjacent areas). If this is the first use of a logistics block, its value is now revealed. The attacker's combat strength is the value of his log block (doubled if he committed two cubes), while the defender value is his own log block (if he used one) or one if he has a defending unit, plus any contribution of terrain or fortifications. Both sides also have Special Action tokens they can commit to help out. Finally, each player rolls 2D6 and adds the difference (Snuggle of Empires-style) to their combat value. If the attacker wins, the defender must retreat. Major fortifications cancel the retreat requirement (but are reduced as a result), and there is a 'Counterattack' Special Token that allows you to cancel a retreat if your logistics block can commit another cube. German units have step losses and decrement if they lose a combat, but Allied units simply retreat if they lose on defense or just stay in place in a failed attack. Units are only eliminated if they cannot retreat, or in the case of Germans, if they lose their last step.
Ike looks for answers
As you might expect, the Soviets and the Wallies do most of the attacking, but the Germans can attack too. They must commit two cubes to do so, but it's a useful way to blunt an impending assault or threaten lines of communication. A successful German attack on a supply source doesn't actually capture the area, but does permanently remove an action cube from the opponent's pool.
The last action, removing a logistics block from the board, is really an administrative chore necessary to maintain offensive momentum. You place action cubes on the logistics blocks as you attack and defend, but your log block 'capacity' exceeds your action cube supply. Pulling off an exhausted log block (one with cubes equal to its value) frees up the cubes for use elsewhere. Also, a few Bad Things remove cubes from your pool (failed defense of a supply source, failure to maintain a front line on defense, German occupation of your supply source) and if you don't have enough available, you immediately lose the game. Also, since you can't have more than one log block in an area, you may need to lift one that's tapped out so a fresh block can move up and keep things rolling.
The Four Fingers of Death
Another feature worth mentioning is the front line delineation. As areas change hands, players use front line markers (long wooden blocks) to mark the advancing (or receding) front. The supply of markers is limited, however, and if you don't have enough to cover the new frontage, you can't advance (or suffer a cube loss if it's the result of a retreat). It's an abstract way to control gamey play, but works thematically and looks great on the map.
In our game, I took the Reds to Scott's Western Allies. My game plan is written right on the box: Race to Berlin. I put my big blocks near the Baltic and three smaller blocks on the Westwall to slow down Monty and friends. Scott, however, had a more complex setup and options. The Wallies are coming up from Italy and east from France, and he had to apportion his logistics blocks accordingly. He decided on a hard push out of Italy as well as an attack along the Rhine, but also sent a couple blocks to Poland to face my numberless hordes.
Patton closes in
I got off to a smoking start and reached the Oder in no time, while Scott bounced an attack across the Rhine before he really got moving. Fifth and Eighth Armies made short work of Smiling Albert, however, and I had to shift some Germans south to stymie the advance toward Austria. My Germans were stretched thin but the broad front may have cost Scott a shot at Berlin. He wasn't helped by his terrible dice - I think he drew or outright lost six attacks to maybe one draw for my own. By the end of the second turn, I controlled the approaches to the capital, so it would be a matter of whether he could keep me out while grabbing enough secondary objectives to win. Unfortunately for the West, I was able to bulldoze my way to the Reichstag and victory - I just had too much firepower on Hitler's doorstep.
We both liked the basic bones of the game, but the runaway Soviet win gave us pause. I think I just had the easier side to play - not much subtlety in my planning. The West has a harder task striking a balance between offensive action and commitment to defending the east; this probably means starving the Italian front. That, plus something approaching average luck, would have made for a much closer game, I think. I love the logistic block concept, which is reminiscent of Wallyburg's excellent orders construct. I think it does a good job of forcing a big picture approach to the game, appropriate to where the player sits in the command tree. However, the fact you're distributing resources to both German and Allied units from the same pool weakens the sim element. I'm capable of impressive mental gymnastics to rationalize game mechanics in real-world terms, but I just gave up on this one. That aside, it does make for challenging play decisions. I'd like to see it applied to a straight-up fight like the Kharkov battles, and Scott suggested it might work well for Kursk.
Physically, it's a lovely package - subdued but evocative map, nice unit counters, and simple, attractive wooden bits. The front markers are fun and functional. There are some missed ergonomic opportunities - the Special Action tokens could have a 'spent' side and the fortification tokens ought to have their reduced value on the back, but these are just quibbles. The rules are great, with only the very special case of Berlin causing any confusion (the city functions as a unique multi-area region). Overall, an impressive effort.
Next to us, Dave and Maynard managed two games of 1989: Dawn of Freedom. They usually spend the evening in a ten-turn slugfest, but these were both early or midgame knockouts. In the first, Maynard's democrats rolled to a concession win when Dave just couldn't see a way to dig himself out of a hole. They reset, and the momentum flipped - Dave managed a shocking turn four win thanks to efficient play of very good hands, including a well-timed Honecker that helped put him over the top.
Demagogue and democrat
Jon Bays was in town, and joined Dutch and Bill for Triumph & Tragedy. Jon took the Soviets, Dutch the Axis, and Bill the West. Bill fell behind the mobilization curve as Dutch ramped up for an early drive westward. France fell quickly and the Germans stormed into a weakly-held Scotland. Bill stripped London to reinforce Glasgow, leaving the capital vulnerable, but they rolled that back to allow Bill to offer a more judicious defense. Nevertheless, the Germans held their beachhead and ultimately took the rest of Britain for the win.
Scotland under attack (while Uncle Joe overlooks an opportunity in France)
Bill headed out, so Dutch pulled out Warriors of God for a teaching game with Jon. They only got through three turns, but I think Jon now has a new title to try out when he returns to Boston.
Getting their WoG on
Last up, Scott and I rounded out the evening with a Desert War scenario from Up Front. We decided on The Infantry's Iron Fist, with Scott's Tommies on the attack against my Italians. I distributed my whopping eighteen men with six on the left, eight in the center, and four on my right. Scott sent his Carrier against my lefthand group, had a good fire group in the center, and Sergeant Vasey led a five man group against my right.
You'll wish you had those Rally cards later
Once Scott closed the range a bit I had very good luck with low-power fire cards, but my men began melting under the heat of British marksmanship. I suffered a very bad stretch and was soon at seven casualties, and my cap was eight! At this point I hit a good run of Rally cards, however, and stemmed the bloodletting. My gain was Scott's loss - he always had one or two men pinned to frustrate his advance, and I managed to double-break young Vasey (mentioned in dispatches) before he could patch up his maneuver group.
The Desert Rats advance
We entered the final deck with the British maneuver group down to three men and therefore unable to advance to victory. However, I was just a casualty away from surrender so Scott focused on a knockout. Timely Concealment cards forced Scott to abort a couple attacks rather than speed the deck depletion. I in turn was stymied by the Italian special rule requiring an extra firepower point to use a card - several times I fell just short of raking Scott's fire base. With only a few cards left, Scott tried one last attack against a group with two pinned men - fortunately a -2 Concealment blunted the blow, and I survived to draw out the deck for the win. Great fun, and Scott's new card set was pretty nifty too.
Nearly most sincerely dead
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